Due to the rise in coronavirus cases, the Government has rolled out measures in an attempt to combat the spread of the virus, which includes employees returning to working from home (if they can), employees of certain businesses having to wear face coverings at work, and pubs and restaurants being required to close at 10pm.
It is expected that these measures will be in place for up to six months.
Below, we have answered some questions which employees may have regarding their employment.
Employee rights in the workplace
My employer has asked me to return to the workplace but I am worried about doing so, do I have to go back to work if I am concerned for my health and safety?
If you can’t work from home and your employer asks you to return to your place of work, you should speak to your employer and offer suggestions of any other measures that could be taken to protect you and the workforce. We recommend trying to maintain an open dialogue so that you can get reassurance that your safety is being taken seriously.
Ultimately, if you do not attend work despite being asked to, your employer could treat your absence as unauthorised and follow its disciplinary process.
However, you do have a legal right not to be dismissed because you have raised health and safety claims. In the current climate, it would be preferable to try everything to resolve the situation without resorting to litigation which could take many months and can be very costly.
I have colleagues that don’t adhere to the social distancing rules at work, what shall I do?
You should make your employer aware straight away and they should deal with this issue, potentially under the disciplinary policy.
Do I need to wear a face mask at work?
This will depend on the industry in which you work. Following this week’s announcement, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place and on Public Transport) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 has been published, which states that employees in places listed in Schedule 3 must wear face masks. This includes:
- Shop workers
- Shopping centres
- Restaurants and bars
There are some exceptions to the rules on wearing a face mask (e.g. due to a disability or where it could cause severe distress).
If you do not follow the rules on wearing a face mask, you will be liable (not your employer) for a £200 fine.
Should my employer provide me with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)?
There is no blanket requirement that all employees who attend work need PPE. The guidance which has been issued by the Government is specific to different industries/sectors and generally, if social distancing can be maintained, PPE will not be compulsory. You should discuss any specific concerns or requirements with their employer.
Please note that face coverings are not considered as PPE by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as they do not protect employees from work-related hazardous substances. The HSE are the Government body with responsibility for safety in the workplace.
I have raised concerns with my employer that I don’t feel safe but they aren’t listening, what else should I do?
If you have raised concerns with your employer’s senior management but you don’t feel that their concerns have been addressed, you can consider whether to contact the HSE about their concerns.
If you are in a dispute with your employer, you could also consider contacting Acas, the Government body that conciliate employment disputes.
Can my employer make me come back?
If you have been asked to return to work and you don’t show up, you may be deemed to be absent without authorisation. You are unlikely to get paid for this and it may also be considered as a disciplinary offence.
You do have a right under health and safety rules to protect yourself from danger but it will be much more reasonable to discuss concerns with an employer and seek reassurance, rather than just failing to attend.